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me in thinking ill of human nature; but, as in our world, there is, through the grace and goodness of God, a good number of upright and benevolent characters, it becomes me to hope the best of every man I meet, till I am obliged by his conduct or conversation to form a different judgment; and this I feel to be a principle at a much greater remove from misanthropy than the other.
There are cases, in which the more we know of men, we shall see reason to esteem them; but this is not true of mankind in general. The longer we live, and the more we are acquainted with them, the more evil we shall see in them. The characters of the greater part of men will not bear scrutinizing. If we look but a little below the surface, whether it be in high life or low life, or even in middle life, we shall see enough to sicken our hearts. Many a favourable opinion, formed under the philanthropic feelings of youth, has been obliged to give way to observation and experience; and many a pleasing dream, into which we have fallen from reading books, has disappeared, when we came to read men.
2. He that knows the most of mankind, will know most of their miseries; and, if he be a man of feeling, this must be another source of sorrow. Who can make himself acquainted with the privations and hardships of the afflicted poor, without participating of their sorrows? This may be a reason why some who are in opulent circumstances decline visiting them. They seem to count the cost, not merely what it will require to supply their pecuniary wants, but what they shall lose by a diminution of their pleasure.
If, in addition to the state of the afflicted poor of our own country, we knew the miseries of slavery, would it not increase our sorrow? Who, that has only acquainted himself with the facts which have been established during the late parliamentary discussions on the African slave trade, can forbear weeping over the miseries which the avarice of one part of mankind brings upon another? And if, in addition to this, we knew the miseries of war, must it not still more increase our sorrow? We hear of great battles, on which depend the fate of kingdoms, and rejoice or are sorrowful as they affect the interests of our country; but did we know
all the individual misery produced by the most glorious victory, how different would be our feelings! Did we hear the cries of the wounded, and the groans of the dying; could we know the state of mind in which they died; were we acquainted with the near relations of the dead, the widows and orphans that they have left behind them; alas, were we in the midst of them, we might be reduced to the necessity of trying to get away, and to forget them!
If, leaving these scenes of woe, we turn our eyes to the abodes of ease and opulence, we shall not find things as we might expect. How often are men envied, when, if we knew all, we should pity them! We form our estimates of human happiness more by appearances than by realities. We little think, how many things are necessary to make us happy, any one of which, if wanting, will render all the rest of little or no account. What are riches and honours and amusements, to one whose life hangs in doubt, from some threatning disorder which he feels to be preying upon his vitals; or to a mind smitten with melancholy, or corroded with remorse; or to one whose peace is destroyed by domestic feuds, jealousies, or intrigues?
3. He that knows most of the sentiments of mankind on everlasting subjects, will, if he be a believer in divine revelation, know most of their devious and destructive tendency; and this must be a source of sorrow. There is what is called charity, that excites no sorrow on this account; but, viewing all religions as nearly alike, all leading to one happy end, it renders the subjects of it quite easy and unconcerned. But Christian charity is another thing. It bears good will to all mankind, but does not think lightly of their alienation from God. He that should doubt, whether the sentence passed against a number of traitors was ever designed to be executed, and should persuade them into his way of thinking, might call himself a charitable man; might boast of his own happiness, and the happiness he produced in others; and insist upon it, that by entertaining such views, he did more honour to the government than they who yielded to the gloomy apprehensions of an execution; but if, after all, his opinions should prove false, and be found to have originated in his own disloyalty, would not his charity be considered as cruel, deceitful, and destruc
tive? The only difference between this and the charity in question is, that the one goes to destroy men's lives, and the other their souls! Genuine charity would have endeavoured to convince them of their guilt, and to persuade them to sue for mercy to their justly offended sovereign. He that can view whole nations of men, who from time immemorial, have lived without Christ, having no hope and without God in the world, and not feel a wish to burst their chains, of whatever religion he may profess to be, must himself be in the same state.
To read the controversies of former ages, and those of the present age, even in the Christian world, must be depressing to a serious mind. He is either perplexed, and tempted to indulge in scepticism; or, if he feels his own ground, still he must perceive great numbers wandering in the paths of error; and who, unless God give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth, will continue to wander, notwithstanding all that can be said or written to reclaim them. They that have done the most towards bending the mind of man to that of Christ, and inculcating just sentiments of religion, will find, after all their labour, much remaining undone; so much, both of the devious and the defective, that he may retire with the words of the wise man, That which is crooked cannot be made straight, and that which is wanting cannot be numbered!
4. He that knows most of the religious world will see the most of its faults and imperfections; and this is another source of sorrow. Among his friends he will find some will prove false, and others fickle; and what is worse, many turning their back on Christ, and walking no more with him. The longer we live in Christian society, and the closer we are connected with it, the more jealousies, envies, evil surmisings, whisperings, and backbitings, we shall discover. Those Christians who have to travel for the gospel, and only see their fellow-christians once in a week, are apt to consider themselves as under great disadvantages; and, in some respects, they certainly are so; but in others, the advantage may be on their side. They do not hear so many sermons, but, having to travel they may be more likely to profit by those which they do hear. They miss much social intercourse; but VOL. VII.
they also stand aloof from the evils which frequently attend it. In looking round the place on a Lord's-day, they see their Christian friends, as we say, in their best dress; knowing just enough to love them and pray for them, and to part with them with affectionate regret; while those who are acquainted with their faults, as well as their excellencies, know to the increase of their sorrow.
Once more: He that knows most of the things of this world, will feel the greatest portion of disappointment from them; and this will be a source of sorrow. Riches, honours, and pleasures promise much, and, while inexperienced, we may hope much; but a thorough trial will convince us, that happiness is not in them. Even knowledge itself, the treasure of the mind, is not only attained with great labour, but is attended with much painful disappointment." He that makes the greatest researches," as Mr. Poole observes, "often finds himself decieved with knowledge falsely so called; often mistakes error for truth, and is perplexed with manifold doubts, from which ignorant men are free."
Secondly Let us try the justness of the remark, in respect of the knowledge of ourselves. Self-knowledge is, doubtless, good, and of great importance. Without it, whatever else we know, it will turn to but little account: yet this also is accompanied with sorrow. He that knows the most of himself sees most of his own faults and defects. It was by comparing his own mind with the word of God, that David exclaimed, Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins. The more we know of ourselves, the worse we shall think of ourselves. We know but little of ourselves at the outset of the Christian life. We see evils in others, and are shocked at them, and are ready to suppose ourselves incapable of any such things; but, as the Lord led Israel through the wilderness, to humble them, and to prove them, and to know what was in their heart, so he deals with us. We have seen rich men high-minded, and may have thought, that it God should give us wealth, how humble and generous we would be with it; we have seen poor men full of envy and discontent, and may have thought, were we in their situation, we would not repine; we have seen men fall in the hour of temptation, and may have joined in heap
ing censures upon them. If it please God to try us in these ways, it may be to humble us; and the knowledge that we gain may be accompanied with not a little sorrow.
Thirdly Let us try the justness of the remark, in respect of the knowledge of God. No one can suppose but this, in itself, is good, and a source of the highest enjoyment; yet it is no less true, that he that increaseth in it, increaseth in sorrow.
The more we know of God, the more we shall perceive our contrariety to him. If like Joshua the high-priest, we were clothed with filthy garments, yet, while surrounded with darkness, and in company with others like ourselves, we should be, in a manner, insensible of it; but, if brought to the light, and introduced to one who was clothed in white raiment, we should feel the disparity. It is thus, that not only those who are strangers to divine revelation, but those who read it without believing it, have no just sense of sin. It was thus that sin, by the commandment, became to the Apostle Paul exceeding sinful; and that the prophet Isaiah, on beholding the glory of God, exclaimed, Woe is me! for I am undone, because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!
Beside this, the knowledge of God draws upon us the hatred, and frequently the persecutions of wicked men; which, though we may be supported under them, yet in themselves, must needs be sources of sorrow: I have given them thy word; (said our Lord, in committing his disciples to the Father,) and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.
I add, The knowledge of God will in some cases, draw upon us the envy of false brethren. If a good man engage in the work of God from the purest principles, and by the divine blessing on his diligence and perseverance, make such progress in useful knowledge as to draw upon himself a portion of public admiration, he may be expected soon to become an object of envy. Men shall rise up who will do their utmost to depreciate and eclipse him. I considered all travail, and EVERY RIGHT WORK, THAT FOR THIS A MAN IS ENVIED OF HIS NEIGHBOUR. This is also vanity and vexation of spirit.